Johnny Depp as Paul Kemp, expatriate American journalist and borderline alcoholic
St. Thomas, Summer 1960
Film: The Rum Diary
Release Date: October 28, 2011
Director: Bruce Robinson
Costume Designer: Colleen Atwood
All the balls that Paul Kemp was juggling at this point have begun to fall. His grasp on his job, his shady dealings with PR whiz Sanderson, and his flirtation with Sanderson’s girlfriend. The bottom falls out when Kemp and photographer pal head to Carnival at Saint Thomas in the Virgin Islands after visiting island property for Sanderson’s budding real estate scam.
Bruce Robinson’s script perfectly nails the feeling of the scene as Chenault leads Kemp by the hand to Sanderson’s yacht:
Like walking the plank in reverse, they invade a small drinks party.
Other than the glamorous Chenault, none of the new visitors fit in with Sanderson’s cosmopolitan set.
Zimburger takes Kemp and Sala to see the island property, then they head to St. Thomas for Carnival. Kemp finds Chenault, and they wind up on Sanderson’s boat. Sanderson berates Kemp for involving Sala in the deal. At night, they go to a club, and a drunk Chenault dances with local men to provoke Sanderson, with whom she has been fighting. The black owners of the bar beat up Sanderson and throw Kemp out of the club. Chenault is left behind at the bar, but where she ends up is not known. The next day, Chenault is gone, and Sanderson tells Kemp that their business arrangement is over.
Unfortunately for our cheeky protagonist, venturing to Carnival at Saint Thomas is exactly the rum-soaked revelry he should have expected.
What’d He Wear?
Kemp goes out to party in a colorful block-striped linen long-sleeve shirt and jeans. Based on his look (and his behavior), he isn’t dressed for fashion so much as he is for comfortably getting drunk.
Kemp’s linen shirt is nice, but the way he wears it is intentionally sloppy. The button-down collar is left unfastened—as are the rounded cuffs—and he wears it untucked, allowing the long hem in the front and back to blow around freely.
The shirt’s stripes alternate—from the front placket outward‚in tan, beige, periwinkle, navy, and taupe. The boldness of the alternating stripes is somewhat muted by the linen; from a distance, the navy stripes are most prominently seen with the remaining stripes having a “shadow” effect across the rest of the shirt.
Kemp’s shirt fastens down a front placket with seven mother-of-pearl buttons, with the top few gradually unbuttoning over the course of the party to continue his devil-may-care approach to dress. The back of the shirt has a center box pleat under a hang loop. The center box pleat gives the shirt more fullness; linen is comfortable in hot weather, and a full shirt keeps the fabric from clinging and unfulfilling its purpose.
Linen is always a smart choice for warm weather wear, although Kemp counters that bit of sartorial shrewdness by coupling it with a pair of jeans. Jeans are not typically recommended for warm summer days in the Caribbean, but Kemp’s life tends to be an unpredictable one and he likely realizes the value of a durable pair of pants for a day-long boozing bonanza.
Kemp also wisely wears a pair of slightly distressed cotton jeans with a loose fit throughout the legs, allowing a breezy airflow without the restrictions of non-cotton synthetic fibers that trap sweat and heat against the skin. The denim wash is a rich medium blue, and the baggy fit continues through the legs down to the full break bottoms.
Kemp’s footwear of choice is a pair of tan suede two-eyelet chukka boots (no crepe soles so they’re not desert boots) that are oft concealed during this sequence under the full break of his heavy jeans. He wears them with several casual outfits throughout The Rum Diary, often with cream cotton socks.
Kemp’s watch is a plain military-styled watch with a round silver-toned case and black dial on a light brown strap. Hunter S. Thompson had indeed served in the U.S. Air Force shortly before he traveled to Puerto Rico and penned The Rum Diary, so it’s very possible that Kemp’s watch is an Elgin, Bulova, Waltham, Hamilton, or other brand who manufactured A-11 and A-17 wristwatches for American servicemen during this era.
Kemp’s sunglasses are much less military-inspired and much more space age, appropriate for 1960. The vintage Renauld “Spectacular” wraparound sunglasses have a futuristic gold frame curving around the two large brown bubble lenses in the front.
Go Big or Go Home
Kemp knows how to party, kicking off his night by reading Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner… for some reason.
Of course, Kemp is able to shift easily into party mode and takes off the albatross from around his neck to chug some beer and—of course—rum.
The party music is anachronistic for 1960, but Hound Dog Taylor & the HouseRockers provide a perfect backbeat for the raucous bacchanal with “Kitchen Sink Boogie” and “Let’s Get Funky”.
Despite the anachronism, the music is exactly what Robinson wanted, as he wrote in the script:
Once again I refer to HOUND DOG TAYLOR. His is the kind of music I want. A real friendly face with a Strat and a grin, hits a slug from his on/stage bottle. "You alright?" "You alright?" Sure they're alright. Two hundred faces alright.
Adrenaline out of a raw guitar. Caribbean turned into black rock and roll. Walls of black muscle put eyes on the little white girls. CHENAULT and her GIRLFRIEND are riding cloud 9.
"Kitchen Sink Boogie," or something similar. Rock like it's coming out of the floor.
How to Get the Look
Kemp dresses for a party, but he wisely doesn’t dress to impress given the kind of party.
- Blue/tan multi-tone block-striped linen long-sleeve shirt with button-down collar, front placket, breast pocket, and button cuffs
- Blue denim jeans with baggy fit and full break
- Tan suede two-eyelet chukka boots
- Cream cotton socks
- Renauld “Spectacular” gold-framed wraparound sport sunglasses with brown bubble lenses
- Military-style field watch with silver-toned case, round black dial, and tan canvas strap
Do Yourself a Favor and…
I don’t know how to write like me.